MN Broadband Day on the Hill March 2021: Video and Notes

It’s been a busy day. MN Broadband Coalition hosted their Day on the Hill and immediately after I hosted a lunch bunch discussion for the Blandin Foundation – so my notes are high level for the meeting but the video is all here:

The Coalition promotes $120 Million for broadband grants – over two years. They promote adding broadband to the base budget so that communities and providers can plan accordingly.

Both the Senate and the House have bills that target $120 million. The Governor budgeted $50 million for one year and none for the second year of the biennium. Since creating the budget targets, the GOP (Senate) have changed their target to $40 million for broadband; we heard (unconfirmed) that the DFL (House) are looking at $30 million. Both legislative goals are for two years (so $20M or $15M per year presumably).

It is worth noting that Senator Bakk mentioned a conflict with broadband funding and desire to not raise taxes. Rep Ecklund was moving forward with $120 million until he heard otherwise. (Again note the budget change in the MN House is unconfirmed.)

Policymakers are concerned about the amount of COVID-inspired federal funding coming into the state for broadband. They do not want duplication between state and federal funds. Unfortunately decisions about how federal funding can be spent may not be made until just before the state session ends. (One policymaker mentioned a special session!)

Things to know: Minnesota grant projects must be scalable to 100 Mbps up and 100 Mbps down (100/100). Minnesota grants reward community engagement. Minnesota grants have been replicated in other states; Commissioner Grove today mentioned that even folks in the UK have been asking about them.

Federal funds generally focus on target speeds of 25/3. There is controversy over two existing federal streams for funding (RDOF and CAF); other streams are being decided now.

So while federal funding is much greater, a community that gets state funding is likely to faster speeds sooner. The question is – how to tap into benefits of both? There is a model in Minnesota where state grants were used to match federal funding in Sunrise Township, which leveraged Minnesota’s more stringent requirements and tapped into greater sources of federal funding. The projects used a state grant, CAF funding and a local match.

Most speakers recognized that COVID has shone a light on perils of unequal broadband access and the opportunity we have now, with COVID attention and funding, to close some gaps. We heard stories from the frontline of the difference broadband can make and the frustration of not having it – and of losing the opportunity due to the clash between state and federal funding.

That’s a fairly complete but not detailed account; I am going to capture Tweets from today too, which might help capture more details.


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